Seventy Sevens Sticks and Stones as reviewed in The Phantom Tollbooth. Re-visit a classic album. Hear unreleased demos. The 77s jamming, live. Great packaging. Do you need this? Yeah – you do.



Sticks and Stones Deluxe Remaster
The 77s
Lo-Fidelity Records
Disc 1: 14 tracks / 71 minutes Disc 2: 11 tracks / 77 minutes

There are several acts (but less than "a lot" ) from those early days of "Jesus rock" that you can use the word "icon" to describe. There are also several (but even less) acts that you can describe as visceral, authentic rock artists. Of course, when you narrow down that category you arrive at the outsiders of the genre: the uncompromising artists who laid it all on the line to express their convictions with artistic integrity and unyielding honesty. Eventually you get down to groups like The 77s. The Sticks And Stones Deluxe Remaster 2-disc set is not only a fine way to re-discover a classic album that's been out of print for a decade and a half, but it's a digital marker in the evolution of a seminal rock band – the inclusion of a second disc that's a collection of demos and live recordings is extra guacamole on the taco.

Sticks and Stones gives you pretty much everything you ought to know about The 77s. Right off the bat, "MT" sucker-punches you in with a heavy distorted guitar riff which surprisingly  gives way to Michael Roe in his sensitive vocal mode. Of course, much about this band involves contradictions and surprises. Just when "Nowhere Else" and "Don't, This Way" have you thinking you're listening to a romantic pop album you get hit in the face with the snarling rocker, "Perfect Blues."

No doubt there have been more than enough arguments about which side of Roe and friends works best - but the truth is, The 77s are simply a very good rock and roll band, capable of stretching a hook for all it's worth ("This is the Way Love Is"), creating beautiful musical passages where you'd least expect them ("God Sends Quails"), paying tribute to love lost and found (pretty much all over the album) and, importantly, never losing sight of the fact that playing rock and roll is fun. Oh – and, as the poet says in "Perfect Blues", "Yeah, baby – when it comes to love we're all jerks. Now, that's an inconvenient truth...."

To describe Roe's vocals as a mix of Jim Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis is only a start. You see, he can spit out a vocal phrase that's just this side of sacred and that side of profane - like an angel with Tourette syndrome. Of course (and here's the B side) Roe can also sound ethereal and knowing, like he does on "God Sends Quails," or beautifully vulnerable, which happens to best effect on the aforementioned "Nowhere Else."

Of course, there's the astounding musicianship.... Roe, on guitars, Jan Eric on bass, Mark Tootle on keyboard and guitar, and the amazing Aaron Smith on drums provide richly-textured jams, riding over deceptively simple frameworks – what they do with the fairly minimal structure of "This is the Way Love is" is simply amazing. The light-handed production allows the band to shine as they break into percussively-propelled moments of improvisational genius, sometimes flirting with jazz, and always with a rock edge.

Disc one ends with four very ready-sounding demos that will be near and dear to the hearts of fans: "Do it For Love," "The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes, & The Pride of Life," "Pearls Before Swine," and "Bottom Line."

The second disc (or "Side B," as it's actually referred to) is appropriately titled This is the Way Love Was, and is an eclectic collection of stunning live recordings surrounding three fascinating demos. Few groups have ever been able to set up the kind of ominous rock ambiance that The 77s were able to produce, and here's Roe at his Morrison-like best on live versions of "Pearls Before Swine" and the ponderous (and almost ironically scary sounding) "You Don't Scare Me," These tracks show the band jamming full-strength with each coming in at ten minutes plus! We also get plenty of "This is the Way Love Is" - a double-serving, due to a lyrical gaff or two in the first attempt, which seems to have played havoc with Roe's sense of humor...

Sounding very much like the era they come from, the demos show influence from Todd Rundgren ("Problem Girl") to The Talking Heads (the vocals on "Cross the City Sky") to Steely Dan – although in the excellent liner notes Roe cites Aztec Camera and The Smiths as influences. The main voice on these demos is Tootle's and the sound is less typical of The 77s' main body of work, implying an interesting road not taken, although that road would have decidedly been just an interesting detour.

The packaging is a three panel fold-out, each 'wing' being an envelope to slip the discs into and the middle with a pouch that holds the excellent, informative twelve page booklet. Re-visit a classic album. Hear unreleased demos. The 77s jamming, live. Great packaging. Do you need this?

Yeah – you do.

Four and a half tocks.

Bert Saraco